Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 46

November14-20, 2002

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When Times Are Tough,
I Turn Harry Potter Pages
by April Falcon Doss

When the new Harry Potter movie opens this weekend, I’ll be one of the series’ most avid fans not to stand in line for tickets.

It’s not that I don’t expect the movie to be charming, or that I fear it’ll be unfaithful to the book on which it’s based, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. No, with a story that good, the movie is sure to be fun. And J.K. Rowling’s devoted fans would never put up with a screen adaptation that strayed an iota from the original text. So the movie will be well-done, I’m sure.

It’s just that a mere two hours of cinematic escape could never compare to the days of pleasure I can wrest from hundreds of pages of twisting plot and hair-raising turns in the life of this young misfit-boy-turned-wizard who finds a magical escape from the unbearable world of the Muggles.

Over the past few years, the Harry Potter books have become my favorite form of escape from all that ails the world — and specifically, from all that pains me. I figure it’s a relatively harmless vice, and it’s one that I’ve come to cherish.

I stumbled into Harry’s world for the first time nearly two years ago, when I was facing some scary health news and enduring the long wait for a prognosis. The Sorcerer’s Stone not only promised eternal life to its fictional possessor; the adventure swirling around it carried me breathlessly through a time that would otherwise have been far more anxious. The second book — the one about to be released in movie form — arrived on my bookshelf just as I was waiting out some prickly uncertainty in my professional life.

The third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, kept my mind occupied while I awaited word on a cherished project. And the fourth (and longest), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, saved my good humor and restored my spirits when the hopes I’d pinned on that project were dashed with its rejection.

I suppose a movie might hold the same restorative powers in its two-hour span, but the magic — as spectacular as cinema can be — just isn’t the same as in books. Even children recognize this, from my four-year-old daughter who fondly indulges my Harry Potter binges because she recognizes the adventure promised by the cover illustrations, to my one-year-old son, who surprised and delighted me with his first word: “book.”

My children are still too young to read by themselves (and far too young for Harry Potter), but my daughter dances while she exclaims, “Library day! Library day!” when she knows she’ll get to pick out more tomes on cats or horses, or whatever happens to be her current favorite topic. My son insistently thrusts his books into the hands of any grown-up who will read the same stories to him again and again.

Movies entertain and occasionally transport us. But in books the world expands. Our imaginations are fired, and we get to do all this while snuggling — with our parents at bedtime or under our grown-up covers at night — as the world and its demands draw still.

Teachers relish Harry Potter’s 400-plus page volumes because they are devoured by children who do not consider themselves enthusiastic readers. I relish the days of immersion the books provide me when disappointment or worry weigh heavy and I long to be snuggled with a bedtime story once again. So, like my son, I return to these favorite books, rereading them with the same pleasure I found first time through.

A few days of Harry Potter help to make the troubles of our at times all-too-real world shrink to a more manageable emotional size. Life’s real injustices find their echo in Harry’s persecution by Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia; every bully finds its foil in Harry’s porcine cousin Dudley and the jaundice-eyed Professor Snape; and the ever-growing menaces of the world — from snipers to terrorism — find their analogue in the looming menace of Lord Voldemort.

It’s not that I confuse the very real emotional and physical trials of this world with the fictional travails of young Potter and his friends. It’s just that reading about make-believe deviltry somehow offers comfort to my contemplation of the real evil that arises in our midst. Witnessing Harry’s humor and fortitude — and that of his friends — somehow restores my confidence in the genuine, nonfictional resilience that resides within us all.

These reminders of humor of hope, courage and perseverance are lessons that come best to me when served up through the practical magic of a book whose pages I can savor in every detail as my eye casts over each word and the pictures begin to spark in my imagination.

So, I’m sure the movie’ll be lovely. But I’ll hold out for the next book.

April Doss — a lawyer with a masters degree in creative nonfiction — reflects from Lombardee Beach.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly